Drying Off the Spitty 1910s, Part 2:  The Careers

Last time we introduced a method of re-casting the seasons from 1913 through 1919 that removes the apparent impact of the legal spitball, and raises the overall average scoring levels of those years to be equal to the seasons surrounding them (1911-12 and 1920-21).

This time we’ll take a close look at the careers of the most significant hitters through the period. All figures presented here from the years before 1913 and after 1919 are actuals, and all those from 1913 through 1919 are adjusted, presented in dark blue. (The multipliers are provided in the References and Resources section below.)

The Two George Burnses

First off, let’s address the raging confusion: just who were the two George Burnses, and was either of them the same guy who played God opposite John Denver?

OK, I’m pretty sure the cigar-wielding comedian was actually named Nathan Birnbaum.

But let’s consider the baseball-playing G.B.’s. To be candid, I had never paid much attention to either one until now. It was my loss.

George Burns

“Tioga George” was a pretty big (6’1”, 180 – please tell me why bb-ref.com doesn’t display all players’ heights!) line-drive-hitting right-handed first baseman. In the period we’re examining here, he was kind of all over the place; and we should note that following 1921, he re-established himself as a good regular, and in 1926, at age 33, he set the then-record for doubles (64), and was awarded that year’s version of the MVP.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1914  21   DET      AL  137  495  67  156  26   6   8   69  33  54  .315  .358  .440  .798
1915  22   DET      AL  105  404  60  111  22   3   8   61  23  49  .275  .314  .405  .719
1916  23   DET      AL  135  496  73  154  26   7   6   89  23  29  .310  .340  .430  .770
1917  24   DET      AL  119  418  51  103  17  12   2   49  15  32  .247  .274  .354  .627
1918  25   PHA      AL *130  527  74 *200  26  10  10   85  24  24  .379  .406  .523  .930
1919  26   PHA      AL  126  487  77  156  35  10  13   69  20  17  .320  .347  .513  .860
1920  27   PHA-CLE  AL   66  116   8   29   7   1   1   20  10  10  .250  .326  .353  .679
1921  28   CLE      AL   84  244  52   88  21   4   0   49  13  19  .361  .398  .480  .878

George Burns

This guy was a small (5’7”, 160) leadoff-hitting left fielder. He was remarkably good; a durable, consistent, on-base machine. He was very comparable to a Richie Ashburn or a Brett Butler. He could play.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911  21   NYG   NL    6   17    2    1   0   0  0     0   1   0  .059  .111  .059  .160
1912  22   NYG   NL   29   51   11   15   4   0  0     3   8   8  .294  .400  .373  .773
1913  23   NYG   NL  150  626   99  194  44   5  3    66  60 *71  .310  .370  .411  .781
1914  24   NYG   NL  154  582 *122  191  42  12  5    73  92  51  .328  .420  .464  .884
1915  25   NYG   NL  155 *643  101  190  32  16  5    62  58  55  .295  .353  .418  .771
1916  26   NYG   NL  155 *644 *128  195  29   9  8    50  65  45  .303  .367  .414  .781
1917  27   NYG   NL  152  619 *125  202  30  15  8    55 *77  53  .326  .401  .462  .863
1918  28   NYG   NL  119  482   97  152  26   7  6    62  44  36  .315  .373  .438  .811
1919  29   NYG   NL  139  554 *105  182  36  10  3    56 *85  36  .328 *.417  .448  .865
1920  30   NYG   NL  154  631 *115  181  35   9  6    46 *76  48  .287  .365  .399  .764
1921  31   NYG   NL  149  605  111  181  28   9  4    61 *80  24  .299  .386  .395 .781

And He Reminds Me Of …

Heinie Groh

An exact age contemporary who was another OBP specialist. Neither Groh nor Burns is in the Hall of Fame or belongs there, but both deserve prominent places in the Hall of Very Good.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1912   22  NYG      NL   27   48    8   13   2   1   0    6   8   7  .271  .375  .354  .729
1913   23  NYG-CIN  NL  121  413   62  126  23   6   5   58  39  36  .305  .365  .423  .788
1914   24  CIN      NL  139  471   72  147  22   5   3   39  66  27  .312  .397  .398  .795
1915   25  CIN      NL *160  608   88  191  38  10   5   61  52  32  .314  .368  .435  .803
1916   26  CIN      NL  149  571  103  167  29  16   3   34 *87  33  .293  .386  .416  .802
1917   27  CIN      NL *156  621  111 *204 *47  13   2   65  73  29  .329  .400  .453  .852
1918   28  CIN      NL  126  512 *105  177 *34   3   2   45  56  23  .346 *.410  .434  .845
1919   29  CIN      NL  122  465   96  156  20  13   8   77  58  25  .336  .409  .486 *.895
1920   30  CIN      NL  145  550   86  164  28  12   0   49  60  29  .298  .375  .393  .768
1921   31  CIN      NL   97  357   54  118  19   6   0   48  36  17  .331  .398  .417  .815

Okay, Wait …

Owen “Chief” Wilson

We can’t proceed until we deal with this guy: one of the very oddest careers in MLB history, for sure. Even recognizing the great prominence of triples in the 1910s, Wilson’s 1912 was something to behold. But fluky as that one season was, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that his power and speed were both clearly extraordinary.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   27  PIT   NL  148  544  72  163  34  12  12  107  41  55  .300  .353  .472  .826
1912   28  PIT   NL  152  583  80  175  19 *36  11   95  35  67  .300  .342  .513  .855
1913   29  PIT   NL  155  599  86  173  14  16  16   89  33  60  .289  .326  .447  .773
1914   30  STL   NL  154  598  78  168  32  14  14   89  33  63  .281  .319  .454  .773
1915   31  STL   NL  107  360  40  108  16   7   5   47  20  41  .300  .336  .421  .757
1916   32  STL   NL  120  365  37   95  10   2   5   39  21  44  .261  .301  .339  .640

Three Stars

Sherry Magee

As a very young player, Magee had long been among the best extra-base-hit producers in the extremely low-scoring environment up to 1910. His career kind of spun out in his thirties, but for a good while there, this guy was a world-class hitter.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   26  PHI      NL  121  445   79  128  32   5  15   94  49  33  .288  .366  .463  .849
1912   27  PHI      NL  132  464   79  142  25   9   6   66  55  54  .306  .388  .438  .825
1913   28  PHI      NL  138  488  112  162  43   7  18   85  39  35  .332  .381  .557  .938
1914   29  PHI      NL  146  565  117 *192 *47  13  24 *125  57  40  .340  .400 *.595  .995
1915   30  BSN      NL  156  591   88  180  41  14   3  106  56  37  .304  .364  .436  .800
1916   31  BSN      NL  122  431   54  113  20   6   5   66  45  50  .263  .333  .370  .703
1917   32  BSN-CIN  NL  117  396   50  120  19   9   2   63  30  29  .303  .352  .410  .763
1918   33  CIN      NL  115  415   56  134  18  15   3  *93  38  17  .322  .379  .461  .840
1919   34  CIN      NL   56  167   13   39   7   1   0   26  27  18  .235  .341  .292  .632

Jake Daubert

This fellow was awarded the NL’s peculiar version of the MVP award in 1913, for what that’s worth. In an era (of rampant bunting and poor gloves) when first basemen were rightly prized for being quick and sure-handed, he was understood to be a much better player than he would have been seen as in later years. Another secure member of the Hall of Very Good.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   27  BRO   NL  149  573   89  176  17   8   5   45  51  56  .307  .366  .391  .757
1912   28  BRO   NL  145  559   81  172  19  16   3   66  48  45  .308  .369  .415  .784
1913   29  BRO   NL  139  530   93  200  20   8   3   63  45  38 *.377  .426  .464  .891
1914   30  BRO   NL  126  493  108  175  20   8  10   55  31  33 *.355  .393  .488  .881
1915   31  BRO   NL  150  564   75  184  25   9   3   57  59  46  .326  .390  .421  .811
1916   32  BRO   NL  127  497   91  170  19   8   5   40  39  37  .341  .390  .442  .831
1917   33  BRO   NL  125  483   72  137   5   5   3   37  53  29  .284  .354  .333  .687
1918   34  BRO   NL  108  411   61  137  14 *17   3   57  28  17  .333  .376  .476  .851
1919   35  CIN   NL *140  555   96  166  12  14   3   54  36  22  .299  .342  .388  .730
1920   36  CIN   NL  142  553   97  168  28  13   4   48  47  29  .304  .362  .423  .785
1921   37  CIN   NL  136  516   69  158  18  12   2   64  24  16  .306  .341  .399  .740

Heinie Zimmerman

At age 25 in 1912, he was probably the best player in the National League and looked to have a superstar career on the way. But it never quite happened; not even our goosing of his 1913-19 numbers obscures the fade. He ended up being declared ineligible as part of the 1920 gambling scandal that eventually led to the exposure of the Black Sox, and one is left to wonder to what degree Zimmerman always played his best.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   24  CHC      NL  143  535  80  164  22  17   9   85  25  50  .307  .343  .462  .805
1912   25  CHC      NL  145  557  95 *207 *41  14 *14   99  38  60 *.372  .418 *.571 *.989
1913   26  CHC      NL  127  464  84  157  34  14  14  116  42  38  .339  .394  .564  .958
1914   27  CHC      NL  146  585  91  188  43  14   6  106  21  44  .321  .344  .475  .819
1915   28  CHC      NL  139  537  79  155  34  13   5   75  22  32  .289  .316  .425  .741
1916   29  CHC-NYG  NL  147  568  93  176  35   6  10 *101  24  41  .310  .338  .442  .780
1917   30  NYG      NL  150  606  74  195  26  10   8 *124  17  41  .322  .340  .439  .780
1918   31  NYG      NL  121  478  52  141  23  12   2   68  13  22  .296  .315  .401  .716
1919   32  NYG      NL  123  458  68  127  24   7   6   71  22  29  .277  .310  .402  .711

Speaking of Which …

Hal Chase

“Could he have really existed, or was he perhaps invented by Robert Louis Stevenson, along with the Master of Ballantrae, Long John Silver and the good Dr. Jekyll? Hal Chase is remembered as a shining, leering, pock-marked face, pasted on a pitchdark soul; there is some evidence to say that he appeared in the flesh, but I lean more toward the invention theory. What mother, if real, what Rosemary could have given birth to such a creature? His parentage is not much discussed in the literature, but he should have been, I would say, the bastard son of a bishop, by way of a woman down on her luck.”

- Bill James

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG  OPS
1911   28  NYY      AL  133  527  82  166  32   7   3   62  36  21  .315  .342  .419  .761
1912   29  NYY      AL  131  522  61  143  21   9   4   58  33  17  .274  .299  .372  .671
1913   30  NYY-CHW  AL  141  547  78  158  16  16   3   58  28  52  .289  .324  .394  .718
1914   31  CHW      AL   58  213  33   62  12   6   0   24  24  18  .290  .361  .401  .762
1915   32  (In Federal League)
1916   33  CIN      NL  142  565  80 *207  35  14   6  100  20  46 *.366  .387  .510  .898
1917   34  CIN      NL  152 *623  86  188  34  17   6  105  15  47  .301  .318  .441  .760
1918   35  CIN      NL   74  269  37   88  14   7   3   46  13  14  .326  .358  .467  .825
1919   36  CIN      NL  110  422  71  130  20   8   8   55  18  38  .308  .336  .452  .788

A Matched Keystone Pair

The 1910s were still a time in which second base was generally considered an offense-first position, pretty much the way third base is today. The combination of rather poor gloves and lots of bunting and stealing meant that double plays were rare, and thus being quick on the pivot wasn’t a priority. Being nimble was more of a characteristic of third basemen and first basemen than second basemen.

Instead, second basemen were often looked to for extra-base hit and RBI production, and here are two standouts in that regard.

Del Pratt

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB   R     H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1912   24  SLB   AL  152  570   76  172  26  15  5    69  36  --  .302  .348  .426  .774
1913   25  SLB   AL  155  613   73  196  37  15  3   106  41  55  .320  .363  .445  .808
1914   26  SLB   AL  158  604  103  185  41  15  8    79  52  43  .307  .361  .463  .824
1915   27  SLB   AL  159  623   74  196  37  13  5    95  27  41  .315  .343  .438  .782
1916   28  SLB   AL  158  616   78  179  42  14  8   125  56  54  .290  .349  .442  .791
1917   29  SLB   AL  123  464   49  125  26   9  2    65  34  35  .269  .319  .376  .695
1918   30  NYY   AL  126  493   79  147  23   8  3    67  36  25  .298  .346  .397  .743
1919   31  NYY   AL  140  546   84  173  32   8  6    68  37  23  .317  .360  .441  .801
1920   32  NYY   AL  154  574   84  180  37   8  4    97  50  24  .314  .372  .427  .798
1921   33  BOS   AL  135  521   80  169  36  10  5   102  44  10  .324  .378  .461  .839

Larry Doyle

Doyle was perhaps a little better than Pratt, but both were really good. Not Hall of Fame caliber, but just below it.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   24  NYG      NL  143  526  102  163  25 *25  13   77  71  39  .310  .397  .527  .924
1912   25  NYG      NL  143  558   98  184  33   8  10   90  56  20  .330  .393  .471  .864
1913   26  NYG      NL  132  499   82  152  30   7   8   89  61  28  .304  .380  .440  .820
1914   27  NYG      NL  145  556  106  157  23   9   8   77  60  24  .283  .352  .400  .752
1915   28  NYG      NL  150  614  105 *212 *48  12   6   85  33  27 *.345  .379  .492  .871
1916   29  NYG-CHC  NL  122  495   74  149  35  13   5   66  29  23  .301  .340  .452  .792
1917   30  CHC      NL  135  491   58  136  23   6  10   74  50  27  .277  .343  .405  .748
1918   31  NYG      NL   75  265   46   75   8   5   5   44  38  10  .284  .374  .404  .778
1919   32  NYG      NL  113  395   74  124  17  12  11   63  32  16  .313  .365  .499  .864
1920   33  NYG      NL  137  471   48  134  21   2   4   50  47  28  .285  .352  .363  .715

Some Sluggers

Dave Robertson

Perhaps the least-known back-to-back home run champ of all time. Robertson could hit, although his plate discipline was virtually nonexistent.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1912   22  NYG      NL    3    2    0    1   0   0   0    1   0   1  .500  .500  .500  1.000
1914   24  NYG      NL   82  264   30   76  14   3   3   39  10  25  .289  .316  .406   .721
1915   25  NYG      NL  141  564   88  180  20  12   5   71  23  50  .319  .345  .421   .766
1916   26  NYG      NL  150  609  107  202  22   9 *19   84  14  54  .332  .347  .492   .839
1917   27  NYG      NL  142  549   78  155  19  10 *19   66  10  45  .282  .296  .460   .756
1919   29  NYG-CHC  NL   28   98   10   22   2   0   2   12   1  10  .228  .236  .301   .537
1920   30  CHC      NL  134  500   68  150  29  11  10   75  40  44  .300  .363  .462   .815
1921   31  CHC-PIT  NL   82  266   36   82  21   3   6   62  13  19  .308  .345  .477   .823

Wally Pipp

Has there ever been a more unfair legacy? Pipp is now almost entirely known as the guy who begged out of the Yankees’ lineup with a headache, providing the opening that was grabbed by The Iron Horse; Pipp’s image is hapless and vaguely comic. But he was a very fine player, a consistent run producer for a long time.

It is interesting that his approach at the plate appears to have evolved in the opposite direction of the Ruth-led mainstream: it looks as though, as his career progressed, Pipp strove to avoid strikeouts and became less concerned with home runs.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1913   20  DET   AL   12   32    4    6   0   3   0    6   2   6  .178  .228  .396  .624
1915   22  NYY   AL  136  493   72  132  24  15   6   73  68  78  .268  .357  .417  .774
1916   23  NYY   AL  151  563   85  161  24  16 *19  113  56  79  .285  .350  .488  .838
1917   24  NYY   AL  155  605  100  161  35  14 *14   85  62  63  .266  .334  .440  .774
1918   25  NYY   AL   91  362   58  119  18  10   3   54  23  33  .329  .368  .462  .831
1919   26  NYY   AL  138  541   90  162  28  12  11   61  40  40  .299  .348  .455  .802
1920   27  NYY   AL  153  610  109  171  30  14  11   76  48  54  .280  .339  .430  .768
1921   28  NYY   AL  153  588   96  174  35   9   8   97  45  28  .296  .347  .427  .774

Beals Becker

In terms of total run production, Baker Bowl in Philadelphia was a good hitters’ park in the 1910s, but not a great one. It’s important to note that it didn’t assume its really extreme character of enhancing scoring until the 1920s and 1930s – undoubtedly due to its very short porch in right field, which became more of a factor after the 1910s, as more batters hit for power.

Home runs are only one portion of run production, of course, and in a game in which home runs are infrequent — as they actually were in the baseball of the 1910s — their influence on scoring is minimized. And in a game in which home runs are infrequent, the sample size from which we measure them is also minimized, and we have to be careful about what conclusions we draw from the data we have. Nevertheless it must be understood that all of the Phillie sluggers profiled here hit the huge majority of their four-baggers in their home ballpark.

Beals Becker was a muscular little guy (5’9”, 170) whose left-handed swing was apparently made to order for Baker Bowl: his actual (non-adjusted) total of home runs hit while a Phillie was 20 at home, 9 on the road. I don’t know the explanation for why he disappeared from the major leagues after age 28; it sure looks like he could still hit. It’s difficult to assess a player who takes special advantage of conditions: clearly Becker in a different ballpark wouldn’t have been as valuable as he was in Baker Bowl, but taking advantage of conditions is a good thing, and Becker was an extraordinarily valuable player in Baker Bowl.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   24  NYG      NL   88  172  28   45  11   1   1   20  26  22  .262  .359  .355  .713
1912   25  NYG      NL  125  402  66  106  18   8   6   58  54  35  .264  .354  .393  .747
1913   26  CIN-PHI  NL  118  430  78  147  29  15  14   71  29  40  .342  .383  .579  .963
1914   27  PHI      NL  138  535  93  188  30   6  14   80  38  57  .351  .394  .509  .903
1915   28  PHI      NL  112  348  46   93  19   5  18   43  27  46  .268  .320  .501  .821

Fred Luderus

Becker’s Phillie teammate was this stocky (5’11”, 185) left-handed-hitting first baseman. For a few years there he hit for quite impressive power. Clearly Baker Bowl benefited him: his non-adjusted home run total in his Philadelphia career was 62 home, 21 away. Quite like Wally Pipp, though, it certainly would appear that in mid-career he modified himself from a flyball hitter into more of a contact-oriented line drive hitter. It’s worth pondering why this might be: possibly, both responded to old-school input that home runs weren’t important, that good hitters hit for a high average.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   25  PHI   NL  146  551  69  166  24  11  16   99  40  76  .301  .353  .472  .825
1912   26  PHI   NL  148  572  77  147  31   5  10   69  44  65  .257  .318  .381  .699
1913   27  PHI   NL *155  607  82  173  38   8  29  105  35  49  .285  .324  .517  .841
1914   28  PHI   NL  121  457  67  124  19   6  19   67  34  30  .271  .321  .464  .785
1915   29  PHI   NL  141  518  67  176  43   8  11   75  43  35  .340  .391  .519  .910
1916   30  PHI   NL  146  526  63  161  31   3   8   65  42  31  .305  .357  .424  .781
1917   31  PHI   NL  154  539  69  153  29   5   8   88  67  34  .283  .363  .399  .761
1918   32  PHI   NL  125  485  66  152  28   2   8   82  43  32  .313  .369  .429  .798
1919   33  PHI   NL  138  527  73  167  36   7   8   60  56  46  .317  .383  .457  .840
1920   34  PHI   NL   16   32   1    5   2   0   0    4   3   6  .156  .229  .219  .448

Vic Saier

The Chicago Cubs moved into Wrigley Field in 1916, which played as a good-to-neutral hitters’ park in its early years, at least in terms of total scoring. Until then they played in West Side Park, which played very neutral in run production. But still, the power exploits displayed by Cub hitters would seem to be have gotten a home field boost: the combined (actual, non-adjusted) home run output of Vic Saier, Frank Schulte, and Cy Williams while playing with the Cubs from 1911 through 1917 was 96 at home versus 55 on the road.

Saier, another 5’11″, 185-pound lefty-hitting first baseman, suffered a broken leg in 1917 that quite obviously wrecked his career. He would certainly appear to be the kind of talent that might have put up some scintillating numbers in the early 1920s.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   20  CHC   NL   86  259   42   67  15   1   1   37  25  37  .259  .340  .336  .676
1912   21  CHC   NL  122  451   74  130  25  14   2   61  34  65  .288  .340  .419  .759
1913   22  CHC   NL  149  537  114  168  18 *24  22  112  64  60  .313  .386  .562  .949
1914   23  CHC   NL  153  553  106  145  29   9  29   88  97  59  .262  .372  .504  .876
1915   24  CHC   NL  144  513   90  147  42  13  18   78  66  60  .287  .368  .521  .889
1916   25  CHC   NL  147  513   73  141  30   3  11   61  82  65  .276  .375  .413  .788
1917   26  CHC   NL    6   22    6    6   1   0   0    2   2   1  .260  .324  .315  .639
1919   28  PIT   NL   58  171   23   42   4   3   3   21  19  12  .244  .318  .362  .679

Frank “Wildfire” Schulte

I could be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure that there are only three guys in MLB history to have a single season containing at least 20 doubles, triples, and homers. Willie Mays (1957) and George Brett (1979) would be the other two. Pretty nice company for old Wildfire.

Ten of those twenty-one 1911 home runs were hit on the road.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   28  CHC      NL  154  577  105  173  30  21 *21 *107  76  71  .300  .384 *.534  .918
1912   29  CHC      NL  139  553   90  146  27  11  12   64  53  70  .264  .336  .418  .754
1913   30  CHC      NL  132  514  103  155  34   7  14   83  40  65  .301  .352  .478  .830
1914   31  CHC      NL  137  479   66  126  26   8   8   74  40  53  .263  .320  .402  .721
1915   32  CHC      NL  151  567   80  154  24   7  19   75  51  65  .271  .331  .440  .771
1916   33  CHC-PIT  NL  127  421   52  127  19   5   8   50  38  52  .301  .360  .426  .786
1917   34  PIT-PHI  NL   94  259   39   61  18   1   2   27  27  35  .234  .306  .331  .638
1918   35  WSH      AL   93  276   43   86  17   3   0   54  49  35  .313  .415  .398  .814

A Matched Pair of Sluggers

Tilly Walker

These next two are among the most interesting players of this period. Both arrived in Philadelphia at age 30 in 1918 and proceeded to become home run specialists (well, Williams already was). Both produced stat lines that are extremely modern in shape; many of these lines would be more at home in the 1950s, or even today, than they were at the time. (I’ve cheated here and added 1922 and 1923 for both of these guys, to display the remarkable home run spikes both enjoyed in their thirties.) It looks as though Walker suffered some kind of injury or illness in 1923 that hindered his performance and curtailed his career, but I don’t know what it was.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   23  WSH   AL   95  356   44   99   6   4   2   39  15  --  .278  .311  .334  .645
1912   24  WSH   AL   39  110   22   30   2   1   0    9   8  --  .273  .333  .309  .642
1913   25  SLB   AL   23   88    9   28   5   1   0   13   2   9  .319  .334  .399  .734
1914   26  SLB   AL  151  536   82  173  29  18  10   95  53  69  .323  .383  .499  .882
1915   27  SLB   AL  144  527   65  154  24   8   8   60  37  74  .292  .339  .414  .752
1916   28  BOS   AL  128  482   83  139  35  13   5   56  24  43  .289  .322  .443  .765
1917   29  BOS   AL  106  347   50   93  22   8   3   45  26  37  .268  .319  .405  .724
1918   30  PHA   AL  114  429   68  137  24   0 *18   58  42  42  .319  .380  .498  .879
1919   31  PHA   AL  125  472   57  149  36   7  16   78  27  39  .316  .353  .523  .876
1920   32  PHA   AL  149  585   79  157  23   7  17   82  41  59  .268  .321  .419  .739
1921   33  PHA   AL  142  556   89  169  32   5  23  101  73  41  .304  .389  .504  .892
1922   34  PHA   AL  153  565  111  160  31   4  37   99  61  67  .283  .357  .549  .906
1923   35  PHA   AL   52  109   12   30   5   2   2   16  14  11  .275  .368  .413  .781

Cy Williams

He was probably better than Walker (and his career thrived through the 1920s), even taking the Baker Bowl factor into account: from 1918 through 1923, Williams hit 76 (actual, non-adjusted) homers at home versus 39 away, but Walker was somehow finding Shibe Park even more accommodating, as his actual figures in those years were 73 home, 27 away.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1912   24  CHC   NL   28   62   3   15   1   1   0    1   6  14  .242  .309  .290  .599
1913   25  CHC   NL   49  160  21   39   4   3   6   39   5  25  .245  .269  .431  .699
1914   26  CHC   NL   55   96  15   21   2   2   0    6  13  12  .221  .317  .294  .611
1915   27  CHC   NL  151  534  72  149  26   7  21   78  27  47  .279  .314  .472  .786
1916   28  CHC   NL  118  419  67  127  23  10 *19   80  53  62  .303  .381 *.545 *.925
1917   29  CHC   NL  138  482  65  127  26   5   8   51  39 *75  .263  .319  .387  .706
1918   30  PHI   NL   94  363  60  109  17   1  10   47  28  29  .300  .350  .432  .782
1919   31  PHI   NL  109  450  66  136  25   1  14   47  31  41  .302  .347  .459  .806
1920   32  PHI   NL  148  590  88  192  36  10 *15   72  32  45  .325  .364  .497  .861
1921   33  PHI   NL  146  562  67  180  28   6  18   75  30  32  .320  .357  .488  .844
1922   34  PHI   NL  151  584  98  180  30   6  26   92  74  49  .308  .392  .514  .905
1923   35  PHI   NL  136  535  98  157  22   3 *41  114  59  57  .293  .371  .576  .947

The Cream of the Crop

Frank “Home Run” Baker

It’s one of the great ironies of baseball history that of all the great sluggers to have played, it’s this fellow who grabbed the nickname “Home Run,” when of course in real life he never hit more than 12 in any season. He was given the handle for his performance in the 1911 World Series, when he hit two key homers against the Giants. But of course it’s true that Baker was a hell of a good hitter, and is well deserving of his place in the Hall of Fame.

Upon returning from his 1915 holdout, Baker appears to have completely lost his speed — those triples figures are miniscule for the era — but he kept his power to the very end, even following another entirely missed season (1920) which he sat out following the death of his wife.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   25  PHI   AL  148  592   96  198  42  14 *11  115  40  --  .334  .379  .508  .887
1912   26  PHI   AL  149  577  116  200  40  21 *10 *130  50  --  .347  .404  .541  .945
1913   27  PHI   AL  149  587  141  213  41  10 *19 *142  65  30  .363  .427  .566  .993
1914   28  PHI   AL  150  592  102  204  28  12 *14  108  55  36  .345  .400  .503  .904
1916   30  NYY   AL  100  372   56  109  28   2  16   63  37  29  .293  .357  .509  .866
1917   31  NYY   AL  146  572   69  175  29   2  10   86  50  26  .306  .361  .415  .776
1918   32  NYY   AL  126  523   79  173  29   6  10   75  39  12  .331  .377  .463  .840
1919   33  NYY   AL *141  587   85  186  26   1  16  101  45  17  .317  .366  .448  .814
1921   35  NYY   AL   94  330   46   97  16   2   9   71  26  12  .294  .353  .436  .789

Gavvy Cravath

In 1903, the inaugural season of the Pacific Coast League, 22-year-old Clifford “Gavvy” Cravath was a regular in the outfield for the Los Angeles Angels. His batting average was an unremarkable .274, but he showed outstanding power, finishing second in the league in home runs (7) and third in the league in doubles (51). He remained a fixture in the Los Angeles outfield through 1907, hitting for power all the time: Cravath led the league in doubles in 1906 and 1907, was second in the league in homers every year.

He was purchased by the Boston Red Sox, and as a muscular (5’10″, 186) 27-year-old rookie in 1908 he had a fine year (OPS+ of 136) as a part-time regular in their outfield. Nevertheless the Red Sox sold Cravath that August to the Chicago White Sox, who for some reason didn’t play him in a single game the rest of the year. He got off to a slow start for the White Sox in 1909, and in May they traded him to the Washington Senators, who played him in just 4 games before sending him back to the minors.

In 1910 and 1911 Cravath played for the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, and at the age of 30 in 1911 he had a monster season, leading the league with a .363 average and 53 doubles, and leading all of organized baseball with 29 home runs. The Philadelphia Phillies acquired him, and he hit his way into the regular right field job there in 1912. He would go on to become far and away the premier home run slugger of the 1910s, until surpassed by you-know-who.

Cravath is an extremely difficult player to properly assess. His major league career is choppy and truncated, leaving us to wonder if his best seasons were spent in the minors, or if he genuinely blossomed in his thirties. Furthermore, his signature major league performances came while playing in Baker Bowl, leaving us to wonder to what degree we’re being fooled by a park illusion. It’s important to note that Cravath was a right-handed batter, so if he was taking special advantage of the short wall in right, he must have been quite an opposite-field hitter. Nevertheless, of all the era’s home run hitters, Cravath’s home-road split is the most extreme: in his career with the Phillies, he hit 92 (actual, non-adjusted) homers in Baker Bowl, and only 25 elsewhere.

The Hall of Fame honors what actually happened, not what might have happened; on that basis I’m satisfied that Cravath doesn’t belong in Cooperstown. But the “what might have been” scenarios here are mesmerizing: what if he had played a 15-20 year major league career? What if he had played in a more neutral hitting environment, allowing us to view his stats with less skepticism? What kind of numbers would he have put up if he had been born a generation or two later?

Cravath became a lawyer and then a judge following his baseball career. The original Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract presents (p. 106) a charming photograph of Judge Cravath, looking quite dapper with a bow tie, silver hair, and pencil-thin moustache. One of the reasons I prefer the original BJHBA to its sequel is the inclusion of more treasures like that.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1912   31  PHI   NL  130  436   63  124  30   9  11   70  47  77  .284  .358  .470   .828
1913   32  PHI   NL  147  547   95 *201  41  16 *30 *156  57  61  .367  .427 *.668 *1.095
1914   33  PHI   NL  149  517   93  167  32   9 *30  122  86  69  .323 *.420 *.598 *1.018
1915   34  PHI   NL  150  540 *108  167  37   8 *38 *140 *89  74  .310 *.407 *.622 *1.029
1916   35  PHI   NL  137  464   85  143  25   9  18   85  66 *86  .308  .394  .516   .910
1917   36  PHI   NL  140  520   85  158  35  18 *19  101  72  55  .304  .389 *.553   .942
1918   37  PHI   NL  121  438   52  111  32   6 *13   66  56  44  .254  .338  .442   .779
1919   38  PHI   NL   83  223   41   82  22   6 *19   55  36  20  .368  .456  .775  1.231
1920   39  PHI   NL   46   45    2   13   5   0   1   11   9  12  .289  .407  .467   .874

A Couple of Old Lions

Honus Wagner

That’s right, he was still hitting like that in his forties. And as a shortstop.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   37  PIT   NL  130  473  87  158  23  16   9   89  67  34 *.334  .423  .507 *.930
1912   38  PIT   NL  145  558  91  181  35  20   7 *102  59  38  .324  .395  .496  .891
1913   39  PIT   NL  114  428  62  139  22   5   5   68  27  38  .325  .365  .431  .796
1914   40  PIT   NL  150  569  73  156  18  10   2   61  53  49  .274  .336  .351  .686
1915   41  PIT   NL  156  585  83  174  38  20  10   95  40  62  .297  .343  .479  .822
1916   42  PIT   NL  123  447  55  139  18  10   2   47  35  35  .311  .361  .409  .770
1917   43  PIT   NL   74  237  18   68   8   1   0   29  25  16  .288  .356  .333  .689

Sam Crawford

Just what was the deal with Sam Crawford and his triples, anyway? I get the fact that triples were a staple of the game in those days, for several reasons: the ballparks, the gloves, and the tactical value of the extra base. But even in that context, Crawford stands way, way out. For fans like myself, who consider the three-base hit the single most exciting play in baseball, he owns a special place of honor.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   31  DET   AL  146  574  109  217  36  14   7  115  61  --  .378  .438  .526  .964
1912   32  DET   AL  149  581   81  189  30  21   4  109  42  --  .325  .373  .470  .843
1913   33  DET   AL  153 *633   95  217  38 *26  14  101  54  27  .342  .394  .555  .949
1914   34  DET   AL  157  604   90  205  26 *30  13 *127  71  30  .340  .409  .546  .956
1915   35  DET   AL  156  634   99  205  37 *22   6 *136  68  28  .324  .389  .482  .871
1916   36  DET   AL  100  333   50  103  13  15   0   51  38  10  .310  .381  .439  .820
1917   37  DET   AL   61  106    7   20   5   0   3   15   4   6  .190  .221  .326  .547

And Three Young Lions

Harry Heilmann

The breakout year he enjoyed in 1921 at age 26 has always been obvious. But this exercise demonstrates that he’d been building toward it for a while; his 1919 was awfully impressive.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1914   19  DET   AL   69  187   30   46  10   1   3   22  23  28  .246  .328  .361   .689
1916   21  DET   AL  136  467   69  143  36  13   3   89  43  38  .306  .365  .458   .822
1917   22  DET   AL  150  575   69  175  26  13   8  105  42  52  .305  .352  .436   .788
1918   23  DET   AL   79  296   41   89  12   7   8   47  36  10  .300  .376  .469   .845
1919   24  DET   AL  140  558   90  193  36  17  13  113  38  39  .346  .388  .541   .929
1920   25  DET   AL  145  543   66  168  28   5   9   89  39  32  .302  .358  .429   .787
1921   26  DET   AL  149  602  114 *237  43  14  19  139  53  37 *.394  .444  .606  1.051

George Sisler

When Sisler’s name does come up nowadays (and if it weren’t for Ichiro!, it practically never would), he often seems to be kind of dismissed, considered overrated. On a career basis I suppose he is, but that’s entirely a function of the dropoff he suffered following his severe eye trouble in 1923. Up to that time he was earning every bit of the glowing praise.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1915   22  SLB   AL   81  284   34   88  12   2   5   35   7  26  .309  .326  .418   .744
1916   23  SLB   AL  151  602  101  199  25  13   6   93  41  36  .330  .373  .446   .819
1917   24  SLB   AL  135  562   73  213  36  10   3   63  31  18  .379  .412  .497   .909
1918   25  SLB   AL  114  471   84  173  25  10   3   50  41  16  .367  .418  .485   .903
1919   26  SLB   AL  132  533  117  202  37  17  16  101  28  19  .379  .410  .604  1.014
1920   27  SLB   AL *154 *631  137 *257  49  18  19  122  46  19 *.407  .449  .632  1.082
1921   28  SLB   AL  138  582  125  216  38 *18  12  104  34  27  .371  .411  .560   .971
1922   29  SLB   AL  142  586 *134 *246  42 *18   8  105  49  14 *.420  .467  .594  1.061

Rogers Hornsby

The spectacular blossoming that occurred in his mid-twenties sprang forth from extremely vigorous roots. So much of the discussion of Hornsby these days seems to center around his (obnoxious) personality, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that he was a staggeringly great player.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R     H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1915   19  STL   NL   18   59    6    16   2   0   0    5   2   6  .268  .293  .308   .601
1916   20  STL   NL  139  514   77   174  20  17  10   79  41  61  .339  .388  .502   .889
1917   21  STL   NL  145  544  105   192  29 *20  13   80  46  33  .353 *.404  .548  *.952
1918   22  STL   NL  115  430   62   131  23  13   8   73  41  41  .305  .366  .473   .839
1919   23  STL   NL  138  532   83   183  18  10  13   86  50  39  .344  .400  .489   .889
1920   24  STL   NL  149  589   96  *218 *44  20   9  *94  60  50 *.370 *.431 *.559  *.990
1921   25  STL   NL *154  592 *131  *235 *44 *18  21 *126  60  48 *.397 *.458 *.639 *1.097
1922   26  STL   NL  154  623 *141  *250 *46  14 *42 *152  65  50 *.401 *.459 *.722 *1.181

And Then There’s This Guy …

Edd Roush

… who I’m never quite sure what to do with. He was a splendid hitter, but this exercise makes it quite clear that he peaked in that regard at ages 24 and 25. Especially when factoring his very-highly-regarded center field defense into the matter, Roush deserves his Hall of Fame plaque. But I remain a little perplexed about just how good he really was. (I’m not presenting Roush’s Federal League stats here, nor those of Hal Chase above, because I’m also not sure what to make of them. The Federal League is recognized as a major league, but I’m not convinced it was truly “major” in quality of play, nor do I have any basis upon which to know whether the spitball adjustment factors I’m using here are valid for the F.L.)

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB   R     H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1913   20  CHW      AL    9   10   2     1   0   0   0    0   0   2  .100  .100  .100  .200
1914   21  (In  Federal  League)
1915   22  (In  Federal  League)
1916   23  NYG-CIN  NL  108  352   46  102   8  17   0   24  14  22  .290  .318  .412  .730
1917   24  CIN      NL  136  544  100  200  23  16   6   82  28  23 *.367  .398  .504  .902
1918   25  CIN      NL  113  453   74  163  22  12   8   75  23  10  .360  .390 *.511 *.901
1919   26  CIN      NL  133  524   89  182  23  14   6   86  43  18 *.347  .397  .480  .877
1920   27  CIN      NL  149  579   81  196  22  16   4   90  42  22  .339  .386  .453  .839
1921   28  CIN      NL  112  418   68  147  27  12   4   71  31   8  .352  .403  .502  .905

Three Very Fine Left Fielders

Bobby Veach

His career wasn’t quite as long as Wheat’s, and Wheat did have a remarkable late-career flourish in 1924-25, but based on what they did in their twenties and early thirties, it isn’t at all obvious why Wheat is in the Hall of Fame and Veach isn’t.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1912   24  DET   AL   23   79    8   27   5   1   0   15   5  --  .342  .388  .430  .818
1913   25  DET   AL  137  507   66  148  26  12   0   78  55  30  .292  .361  .390  .751
1914   26  DET   AL  149  549   68  164  23  16   2   88  52  28  .299  .359  .408  .766
1915   27  DET   AL  152  591   99  200  48  12   5 *136  70  41  .338  .408  .483  .891
1916   28  DET   AL  150  587  112  194  39  17   5  111  54  39  .331  .387  .481  .868
1917   29  DET   AL  154  593   96  204  37  14  13 *125  63  42  .344  .407  .518  .926
1918   30  DET   AL  127  516   72  156  25  15   5  *95  36  22  .302  .348  .437  .785
1919   31  DET   AL  139  561  106 *214 *54 *20   5  123  34  32  .382  .417  .573  .991
1920   32  DET   AL *154  612   92  188  39  15  11  113  36  22  .307  .353  .474  .827
1921   33  DET   AL  150  612  110  207  43  13  16  128  48  31  .338  .387  .529  .917

Zack Wheat

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB   R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   23  BRO   NL  140  534  55  153  26  13   5   76  29  58  .287  .332  .412  .744
1912   24  BRO   NL  123  453  70  138  28   7   8   65  39  40  .305  .367  .450  .818
1913   25  BRO   NL  138  555  78  181  34  12  11   71  26  43  .326  .356  .488  .844
1914   26  BRO   NL  145  554  80  191  31  10  14  108  49  48  .345  .397  .516  .914
1915   27  BRO   NL  146  545  78  153  18  14   8   80  54  40  .280  .345  .408  .753
1916   28  BRO   NL  149  590  93  199  38  15  14   89  44  47  .337  .383  .526 *.910
1917   29  BRO   NL  109  376  46  127  18  13   2   50  21  17  .338  .372  .466  .838
1918   30  BRO   NL  105  426  47  154  18   3   0   62  17  16 *.361  .385  .420  .805
1919   31  BRO   NL  137  556  85  179  28  13   8   75  34  26  .321  .361  .460  .820
1920   32  BRO   NL  148  583  89  191  26  13   9   73  48  21  .328  .385  .463  .848
1921   33  BRO   NL  148  568  91  182  31  10  14   85  44  19  .320  .372  .484  .857

Joe Jackson

He was a tremendous player. I’m fully in support of the decision to declare him ineligible, and to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but if it weren’t for the Black Sox stain , he would clearly deserve to be in Cooperstown.

That said, I think Jackson’s virtual-martyr status is often overblown. Yes, he was terrific, but he wasn’t as good as Speaker or Cobb. He was better than Veach and Wheat, but not an inner-circle guy.

Year  Age  Team     Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1911   21  CLE      AL  147  571  126  233  45  19   7   83  56  --  .408 *.468  .590  1.058
1912   22  CLE      AL  154  572  121 *226  44 *26   3   90  54  --  .395  .458  .579  1.036
1913   23  CLE      AL  148  552  133 *221 *47  20  11   86  83  25  .401  .479 *.617 *1.096
1914   24  CLE      AL  122  472   74  172  26  15   5   65  42  33  .364  .416  .514   .930
1915   25  CLE-CHW  AL  128  478   77  159  24  16   8   99  54  22  .333  .400  .501   .901
1916   26  CHW      AL  155  617  111  227  48 *24   5   95  47  24  .368  .413  .547   .960
1917   27  CHW      AL  146  558  111  182  24  20   8   91  59  24  .326  .390  .482   .873
1918   28  CHW      AL   17   68   11   26   2   2   2   24   8   1  .381  .448  .555  1.003
1919   29  CHW      AL  139  538   96  203  37  16  11  117  62  10  .378  .442  .569  1.011
1920   30  CHW      AL  146  570  105  218  42 *20  12  121  56  14  .382  .444  .589  1.033

The Cream of the Cream of the Crop

Eddie Collins

When thinking of Collins, I think we’re often times inclined to focus on his little-ball skills, which were legendary: his bunting, stealing, defense, and general smarts. But we should never forget that he was also a hell of a good hitter. If he isn’t still the greatest second baseman of all time based on career value, he’s awfully close.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
1911   24  PHA   AL  132  493   92  180  22  13   3   73   62  --  .365  .451  .481  .932
1912   25  PHA   AL  153  543 *137  189  25  11   0   64  101  --  .348  .450  .435  .885
1913   26  PHA   AL  148  557 *152  207  28  15   5   89   88  36  .371  .457  .500  .957
1914   27  PHA   AL  152  548 *149  203  28  16   3  103  100  30  .371  .468  .497  .965
1915   28  CHW   AL  155  542  144  194  26  12   6   94 *123  26  .358  .477  .485  .961
1916   29  CHW   AL  155  566  106  189  17  20   0   63   89  35  .333  .424  .432  .856
1917   30  CHW   AL  156  584  111  183  22  14   0   82   92  15  .313  .407  .398  .804
1918   31  CHW   AL   97  341   62  102  10   2   3   37   75  12  .299  .426  .369  .795
1919   32  CHW   AL  140  538  106  185  23   8   6   97   70  26  .344  .420  .452  .872
1920   33  CHW   AL  153  602  117  224  38  13   3   76   69  19  .372  .438  .493  .932
1921   34  CHW   AL  139  526   79  177  20  10   2   58   66  11  .337  .412  .424  .836

Tris Speaker

Best one-sentence summarization of Tris Speaker ever: “Well, if you can imagine George Brett playing center field like Cesar Geronimo, you’d be pretty close.” That’s from the original Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (p. 395), and the removal of that little “Comparable Recent Players” feature from the updated BJHBA is another reason I prefer the old one. Well, maybe that, and the fact that I’m a cranky old fart.

One measure of Speaker’s greatness is this point James makes, also from page 395: “It was not a unanimous agreement among the observers of Speaker and Cobb’s time that Cobb was the better player. Cobb was a better hitter and a more prolific base stealer, but Speaker was a better outfielder, had a better arm, was probably faster, was a great hitter himself and seemed to wind up on winning teams more often.”

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1911   23  BOS   AL  141  500   88  167  34  13   8   70  59  --  .334  .418  .502   .920
1912   24  BOS   AL  153  580  136  222 *53  12 *10   90  82  --  .383 *.464  .567  1.031
1913   25  BOS   AL  141  543  114  212  42  25   5   86  67  21  .391  .458  .588  1.045
1914   26  BOS   AL *158  595  123 *217 *55  21   6  110  79  24  .364  .439  .559   .998
1915   27  BOS   AL  150  569  131  198  30  14   0   84  84  13  .348  .431  .449   .880
1916   28  CLE   AL  151  572  124 *237 *49   9   3   96  85  19 *.414 *.490 *.549 *1.039
1917   29  CLE   AL  142  546  110  207  50  13   3   73  69  13  .379  .449  .535   .983
1918   30  CLE   AL  127  489   89  168 *39  13   0   74  66   9  .344  .422  .477   .899
1919   31  CLE   AL  134  512  101  164  45  14   3   77  75  12  .320  .407  .482   .889
1920   32  CLE   AL  150  552  137  214 *50  11   8  107  97  13  .388  .483  .562  1.045
1921   33  CLE   AL  132  506  107  183 *52  14   3   75  68  12  .362  .439  .538   .977

Babe Ruth

I’m not presenting any pitcher’s careers in this article (come on, isn’t it way too long already?), but I think we can make an exception for this guy, who seems to be the exception to every rule. Chew on this factoid for a while: from 1915 through 1917, Ruth pitched to 3,508 batters, and allowed 5 actual home runs (this exercise adjusts it to 8). In that same period, he came to bat himself 351 times, and hit 9 actual home runs (this exercise adjusts it to 14).

How about another factoid: Fenway Park was a terrible home run park in Ruth’s years there; either the worst in baseball or something very close to it. The Red Sox as a team hit (actual, non-adjusted) 21 home runs at home from 1915 through 1919, and 69 on the road, with Ruth’s portion being 11 at Fenway at 38 away.

What would have become of Ruth The Pitcher if he hadn’t hit so well? This is, of course, one of the all-time great questions. There’s no doubt he was an authentically brilliant pitcher in 1916 and 1917. But frankly his pitching lines don’t suggest long-term stardom to me. His walk-to-strikeout ratio wasn’t impressive; it looks very much to me that Ruth was a groundball pitcher without especially good control — not the best of combinations. I don’t like the direction that strikeout rate took from 1916 to 1917.

It’s impossible to know what toll Ruth’s focus on hitting, and playing nearly every day, in 1918 and 1919 took on his pitching effectiveness; one certainly has to assume it had a big impact. At any rate the trend lines in 1918 and 1919 were quite alarming. His 9-5 won-lost record in 1919 is a complete illusion: he wasn’t an effective pitcher that season at all.

But the big fellow had a decent year with the bat, didn’t he.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1914   19  BOS   AL    5   10    1    2   1   0   0    2    0   4  .200  .200  .300   .500
1915   20  BOS   AL   42   96   19   33  12   1   6   26    9  22  .341  .399  .691  1.091
1916   21  BOS   AL   67  141   22   42   6   3   5   18   10  22  .296  .344  .490   .834
1917   22  BOS   AL   52  128   17   45   7   3   3   15   12  17  .351  .408  .537   .945
1918   23  BOS   AL   95  329   61  107  31  13 *18   80   60 *56  .325  .429 *.657 *1.086
1919   24  BOS   AL  130  449 *125  156  41  14 *47 *139  104  56  .348 *.470 *.810 *1.281
1920   25  NYY   AL  142  458 *158  172  36   9 *54 *137 *150  80  .376 *.532 *.847 *1.379
1921   26  NYY   AL  152  540 *177  204  44  16 *59 *171 *145  81  .378 *.512 *.846 *1.359
Year  Age  Team  Lg   G  GS  CG   IP   W   L  Sv    H   BB   SO  HR   ERA
1914   19  BOS   AL   4   3   1   23   2   1   0   24    7    3   2  4.76
1915   20  BOS   AL  32  28  16  218  18   8   0  186   88  108   5  2.97
1916   21  BOS   AL  44 *41  23  324  23  12   1  258  122  163   0 *2.13
1917   22  BOS   AL  41  38 *35  326  24  13   2  274  111  123   3  2.45
1918   23  BOS   AL  20  19  18  166  13   7   0  140   51   38   2  2.70
1919   24  BOS   AL  17  15  12  133   9   5   1  166   60   29   3  3.62
1920   25  NYY   AL   1   1   0    4   1   0   0    3    2    0   0  4.50
1921   26  NYY   AL   2   1   0    9   2   0   0   14    9    2   1  9.00

Wow

Ty Cobb

Everything about Ty Cobb is extreme, of course. “Average” or “bland” or “unremarkable” are descriptions of pretty close to nothing about him, on or off the field.

But of all the extreme things regarding Cobb — his crudeness, his boorishness, his temper, his stubbornness, his intensity, his aggressiveness, his alertness, his speed, his insatiable drive for success — his most extreme attribute remains very simple and central: it was his skill with a bat. Whatever else there is we may say about Cobb, and there are so many things worth saying about him, the one thing that can never be overstated is what a great, great hitter he was.

Year  Age  Team  Lg    G   AB    R    H  2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  SO     BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
1911   24  DET   AL  146  591 *147 *248 *47 *24   8 *127   44  --  *.420  .467 *.621 *1.088
1912   25  DET   AL  140  553  120 *226  30  23   7   83   43  --  *.409  .456 *.584 *1.040
1913   26  DET   AL  122  449   85  188  22  18   6   82   60  30  *.418 *.487  .591  1.078
1914   27  DET   AL   98  361   84  143  26  13   3   69   59  21  *.395 *.480 *.565 *1.046
1915   28  DET   AL  156  589 *175 *234  37  15   5  121  122  41  *.397 *.500  .535 *1.035
1916   29  DET   AL  145  567 *138  226  37  12   8   83   80  37   .398  .473  .547  1.020
1917   30  DET   AL  152 *616  130 *253 *53 *28  10  124   63  33  *.410 *.465 *.633 *1.098
1918   31  DET   AL  111  441  101  181  23 *16   5   78   42  20  *.410 *.462  .568  1.029
1919   32  DET   AL  124  520  112 *214  43  15   2   85   39  21  *.412  .453  .562  1.015
1920   33  DET   AL  112  428   86  143  28   8   2   63   58  28   .334  .416  .451   .867
1921   34  DET   AL  128  507  124  197  37  16  12  101   56  19   .389  .452  .596  1.048
1922   35  DET   AL  137  526   99  211  42  16   4   99   55  24   .401  .462  .565  1.026

References & Resources
Equalizing the average rates of 19{11,12,20,21} with those of 1913-19 is achieved by using the following multipliers:

Runs: 1.2175
Hits: 1.1228
Doubles: 1.1969
Triples: 1.15209
Home Runs: 1.6035
Walks: 1.0320
Strikeouts: 0.9614

An impact of a greater rate of hits is an increase in at-bats, of course. I use a simple method to increase at-bats: every batter’s at-bats are increased by his number of increased hits. Outs are constant, of course, and I assume as well a constant rate of double plays and baserunning outs – probably not exactly proper assumptions, but close enough for our purposes.

The Bill James quote regarding Hal Chase appears in the player evaluation section of both versions of The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (Villard Books, 1985), on page 329 of the original (quoted here), and in very slightly different form, on page 462 of the NBJHBA (The Free Press, 2001).

Hal Chase, alas, played college baseball for my beloved hometown school and alma mater: Santa Clara University (known as Santa Clara College in Chase’s day). Santa Clara produced quite a number of major league players in the early decades of the 1900s, but Chase was far and away the best of them. The bit of research I’ve done on the subject suggests that it’s likely Chase (and others of these early Broncos) weren’t truly students at all, but were simply paid ringers. Seems like collegiate athletics hasn’t changed all that much in 100 years.

I don’t know where to find home-road home run totals on the internet; I’m sure there’s a site somewhere, but I’m not familiar with it. The data I’ve cited here comes from The Home Run Encyclopedia: The Who, What, and Where of Every Home Run Hit Since 1876 (Macmillan, 1996), a jewel of a SABR publication compiled by Bob McConnell and David Vincent. Home Run Factors (along with total run-based Park Factors) are also one of the most valuable portions of the original edition of Total Baseball (Warner Books, 1989), edited by John Thorn and Pete Palmer, beginning on page 2167.

The Pacific Coast League performance by Gavvy Cravath is found in The Early Coast League Statistical Record, 1903-1957 (Baseball Press Books, 2004), compiled by Carlos Bauer. I just got this one in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and I can tell already it’s going to be one of my very most valuable resources. My copy came with a very nice handwritten note of thanks from the author. How cool is that?

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